The World Trade Organization (WTO) on December 7 ruled that Canada and Mexico can hit the United States with more than $1 billion in tariffs on U.S. goods in retaliation after the U.S. failed to repeal its country of origin labeling (COOL) laws.

The WTO issued the ruling nearly 6 months after it had considered the COOL laws, which require that meat be labeled with the country where the animal from which it was derived was born, raised and harvested. Mexico and Canada had issued a complaint with the WTO, stating that the COOL laws discriminate against Mexican beef and pork. COOL also has provisions affecting poultry and seafood.

The Canadian and Mexican governments had previously stated it would seek retaliatory measures, and upon receiving word that the WTO ruled those retaliatory measures can be pursued, Canadian authorities emphasized its continued desire to implement tariffs on U.S. goods.

“If the U.S. Senate does not take immediate action to repeal COOL for beef and pork, Canada will quickly take steps to retaliate,” Chrystia Freeland, Canadian minister of International Trade, and Lawrence MacAulay, minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, said in a joint statement. “Canada continues to work with our partners in the United States, and in the U.S. Senate, to urge the full repeal of the discriminatory COOL policy for beef and pork.”

US agriculture groups urge Congress to repeal COOL

While the U.S. House of Representatives in June approved a bill that called for the repeal of COOL, similar legislation in the Senate that was advocated by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts did not gain approval.

Since learning of the WTO’s ruling, several agriculture groups have released statements urging the repeal of COOL.

"I am keenly aware that chicken and fowl could be at the top of the list for retaliation by Canada and Mexico, and that this labeling law continues to leave the door open for retaliatory action by other countries, too," said National Chicken Council (NCC) President Mike Brown.  "NCC supports legislative action that will bring U.S. laws and regulations pertaining to meat and poultry into full compliance with our international trade obligations.  NCC urges Congress to repeal the labeling provision for chicken, beef and pork now."

“America’s pork producers need congressional lawmakers to recognize the imminent harm our economy faces,” said National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) President Dr. Ron Prestage. “Retaliation has been authorized, and our exports to the No. 1 and No. 2 markets will suffer and so will U.S. farmers, business people and consumers. We need Congress to repeal the labeling provision for beef, pork and poultry now.”

The American Farm Bureau Federation stated that it supports country of origin labeling that meets WTO requirements, but added “the risk of retaliation by Canada and Mexico is too great. U.S. farmers and ranchers could suffer a serious blow if Congress does not act quickly.”